January 18, 2010

Cooking School: Stocking Your Pantry

For today's post, I dug back into my cookie jar of comments from friends regarding my last blog. A friend from high school who lives and works in the D.C. area and has probably the busiest schedule of anyone I know asked a really great question: How do you put together a fun meal for friends when you have nothing in the fridge or pantry?

My first answer would be, order a pizza! But then, if you think about it, most people do get more creative when they're down to the bare bones of what's available at home. I once managed to put together a taco salad with the remnants of someone's pantry when even he had no clue his kitchen offered up such fare. I think it is when you're down to nothing that you can really get your game on!

The folks at OChef offer a nice comprehensive list of the ideal pantry, and in a perfect world, we'd all have this stuff lying around to whip up into something great when throwing an impromptu party. But really, if you've got a can of diced tomatoes, an onion, a lime, and even just garlic powder and salt, you've got salsa. I would say most people tend to have tortilla chips around the house, but even if you just have a stack of flour or corn tortillas, even those can be turned into chips in a hot oven in 10 minutes. Instant chips and salsa! Or, you can go a step further if you have shredded cheese and maybe a can of chili in that cupboard somewhere--oven nachos, one of mine and my husband's favorite dinner-and-a-movie menus.

Say you've got a box of spaghetti and two or three tomatoes, and maybe, just maybe, if you're lucky, there's a container of grated Parmesan from your last big Italian production. Nothing makes a better summertime dish than pasta with fresh tomatoes and a garnish of Parmesan. And remember, you can always make an unplanned get-together somewhat planned by asking folks to bring something. Even if you prefer homemade, a lot of people are quite willing to stop by the grocery store and pick up something ready-made.

Here are some other fast equations to calculating an impromptu party spread:

Box of instant pudding + thawed whipped topping + sliced bananas, apples, pears, etc. = fruit dip tray
Potatoes + cheese + deli meat + sour cream = TGIFriday's-like potato skins
Sour cream + dill, parsley, and garlic powder = homemade ranch dip for random veggies or potato chips
Ice cream + cookies = ice cream sandwiches

I suppose you do actually need something in your kitchen to get started, so if you really truly don't have anything, then maybe the pizza guy will have to come to the rescue, but I'm a big believer in stocking the kitchen forever and always with at least some of the following: pasta, canned tomatoes and black beans, shredded cheese (which keeps in the freezer for what seems like forever), sour cream, apples (Granny Smiths and Red Delicious keep a long time in the fridge), flour tortillas (also freezeable), and seasonings such as garlic powder, basil, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon. Our house is never really without ice cream, so we always have an instant dessert around here. And with all the two-fer deals grocery stores are always having on those, there's no real reason any home should be without it, I think!

Well, here's to a better-stocked 2010. Eating at home is always better for you than eating out (saves moolah and calories!), so I hope this little pantry primer helps you make out better with what you might already have!

1 comment:

uncharted said...

*this was definitely helpful for me, especially since I don't cook much. Just recently, I discovered stilltasty.com, which tells you how long different foods last for and how to store it best. Super great for someone like me who forgets about the hunk of ginger root in the back of the fridge... thought it might be something your readers like too!